No other auteur pays homage to Douglas Sirk the way Pedro Almodóvar does (Todd Haynes being the notable exception). Julieta, his latest film, is a melodrama with a capital M. Tonally, it will remind fans of All About My Mother from 1999, as both films are sodden with rainwater and tears — but Almodóvar inverts the dramatic equation this time. Julieta’s daughter Antía walked out of her mother’s life one day and never returned. The anguished mother’s eyes stay hooded and bleary as she waits for her to come back. (All About My Daughter could have been Julieta’s working title.) The director employs two actresses to tell Julieta’s story: Adriana Ugarte when she was young, and Emma Suárez in her aging despondency. Almodóvar performs a magic trick with the different faces of these two Julietas. He separates them in time but unites them psychologically, with a shared sense of profound desolation. For Julieta — the director’s stand-in — desire lies at the root of all this melancholy. Desire brings passion and love along with its sorrowful twins, pain and loss. What buoys the film from being a drag is this Spanish filmmaker’s witty flourishes of red. Almodóvar uses the color to indicate the presence of blood as it moves through the confines of the human heart. Almodóvar alone seems to understand what keeps it from stopping.
Rated R. Opens Friday at Landmark Clay in San Francisco.